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City turns focus from homeless encampments to long-term planning
homeless camp glenwood 1
Individuals camping outside in the 200 block of W. Glenwood were moved out on Wednesday as part of the City of Turlock’s response to a 120-day emergency declaration made regarding homelessness in Turlock (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

After clearing out major homeless encampments throughout the city in recent months, the Turlock City Council on Tuesday approved the next steps in addressing the local unhoused crisis.

The Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to terminate a previously ratified local emergency proclamation, which focused on encampments and ratified a new local emergency focusing on unsheltered homeless and re-appropriates unspent funding from the first proclamation to be used for the issue moving forward.

Interim Chief of Police Steven Williams provided the Council with an update Tuesday on the City’s local emergency in response to its Unsheltered Homeless and Encampment Crisis, which was ratified on March 16. Since then, City staff has partnered with county resources and local shelters to make contact with unhoused individuals living in notable encampments throughout Turlock, connecting them with available resources before clearing out the camps.

In addition to 129 beds available between the We Care and Turlock Gospel Mission shelters, an extra 170 overflow beds were made available at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds as part of the local emergency — none of which at the fairgrounds were used following the camp clean outs.

While clearing out the various camps throughout Turlock, which included sites on Golden State Boulevard, South First Street, West Main Street and West Glenwood Avenue, Williams said the number of homeless individuals at each camp decreased drastically on the day they were cleaned up. At the camp that was located next to Planet Fitness on West Main Street, an estimated 40 to 50 individuals were present prior to outreach and just 10 remained on the clear-out day.

In mid-May, there were officially no known significant encampments within the City of Turlock.

“We’re not asking for this local emergency to continue because this local emergency includes the unsheltered homeless encampment crisis, and since encampments have been addressed there are no significant encampments in Turlock and there have not been since May 17,” Williams said. “We didn’t feel that continuing this emergency was appropriate.”

The new local emergency which was ratified by the Council on Tuesday will see $401,958 of unused funds from the first local emergency, which was allocated a total of $498,417, used in collaboration with the Council’s newly-formed ad hoc committee on homeless, spearheaded by Councilmember Rebecka Monez and Vice Mayor Pam Franco. The funding will go to shelter providers, contractors, supplies, service agreements, staffing costs and more, and will also be used to fund the overflow shelter at the fairgrounds if it needs to be opened.

“There is still the possibility that an emergency shelter may be necessary as we continue in the process, and we need to have that funding available to make sure that we have measures in place to provide adequate housing for those that are in need if they choose to accept the services,” Williams said.

Turlock Unified School District Trustee Mary Jackson asked the Council why a low-barrier shelter had not been put in place prior to cleaning out the large encampments throughout the city, as most of the homeless individuals living in each simply moved to a new location rather than accepting services. She said the effort was “set up for failure.”

“That would have been the humane thing to do…I hope that the ad hoc committee can actually look at that,” Jackson said. “…I feel that as a human, you need to give these people an alternative.”

Monez said that she, Franco and Interim City Attorney George Petrulakis will take part in the first homeless ad hoc committee meeting on Friday and an update will be provided at the next City Council meeting.

“I believe now we are all in as a city to address the unsheltered individuals in our city. That’s what these last few months have meant to us, and now we’re going to continue that,” Councilmember Nicole Larson said. “I applaud my colleagues for taking on the ad hoc committee to continue this effort, to not drop it where it was left and have this problem repopulate once again into a visible status where it really affects our city.”

Addressing Jackson’s comments, Mayor Amy Bublak spoke before the final vote.

“…Compassion is not allowing people to live in that,” she said. “That was squalor and unacceptable and within COVID even worse, so I think we did show compassion and we will continue to.”